NetHui, the website says, brings together everybody and anybody that wants to talk about the internet. It's not a conference and speakers don't talk at you all day. Instead, Internet NZ’s gathering of technologists, humanitarians, educationalists and philosophers is designed “for the community, by the community”.
To this end, we sent a number of staff to NetHui this year to discuss and debate a wide range of issues that involve the internet, promote our office’s privacy resources and to listen and contribute to the diverse perspectives.
This post brings together a series of stories by OPC staff members, reflecting what we talked about, heard and learned at NetHui.
Digital divides – Sam Grover
I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion session on identifying and addressing digital divides. Digital divides are the gaps between people who have access to digital technology (in this case, the internet) and those who do not. As organisations and institutions adopt technology, digital divides can deepen existing deprivation by making it more difficult for people to engage with society and government.
My main takeaway from this discussion was that digital divides take a number of different forms. There are parts of the country where the physical infrastructure is not available. In other cases, the infrastructure may exist, but people cannot afford internet access.
One person pointed out that even if the internet was available for no cost at the local public library, getting there as a single parent with multiple children will still be difficult.
These divides have implications for a person’s access to information. The Privacy Act gives people the right to see and comment on personal information that agencies hold about them. It also gives individuals the right to ask for this information through any channel they like.
While it may be tempting for agencies to streamline services by requiring that all information requests come via an online channel, that requirement is not actually consistent with the Privacy Act. The digital divides session highlighted why this is important – privacy rights apply to everyone, including those who are unable to access the internet.
Trust and deception – Vanessa Blackwood
A lot of what the Privacy Act covers relates to trust. We trust agencies to make sure that they’re collecting our personal information for the right reasons, collecting only what they need, making sure it’s accurate before they using it, storing it securely, not sharing it with anyone else, and getting rid of it when they don’t need it anymore.
Organisations can repair this trust when things go wrong, using examples we’ve seen recently. When ACC used inaccurate information to make a decision about someone’s entitlement, they helped to put things right with a sincere up-front apology.
We should take care not to blindly trust personal information about people just because it’s online. For instance, an employer using a search engine to research a potential new employee should give that candidate a chance to explain and contextualise anything out of the ordinary that the employer finds about them online. Failing to check the information before use could mean you fall foul of the Privacy Act requirements.
Ben and Jamison talked about tools and techniques to stay safe online, such as single use passwords or tools like password manager apps. I raised the idea that designers working on digital products or services should think about whether their service actually needs personal information like a user ID/password combination – it’s much easier to remember all your single use passwords if you’re not creating new log-in credentials for everything you have to do online. Designers can focus on being privacy-centric by creating services that collect minimal personal information and that inform users up-front what personal information is being collected, why it is needed and how it will be used.
Powering jobs and the economy – Michael Harrison
NetHui revealed the divide in how our society is perceiving the future. On one side are the technology optimists who believe that technology will lift us out of drudge work to enable us to work more fulfilling jobs that we cannot yet imagine. On the other side are the technology pessimists who believe that technology will lift us out of work and leave us on the wayside, unemployed and discarded.
This divide was the focus of a debate on the next generation internet powering jobs and the economy. The discussion was initially downcast, covering how the education system is not preparing young people for the future. It continued with the elimination of entire sectors of workers, and the failure of capitalism. The optimists then swung in, outlining a future of retraining and greater productivity. The example of Healthline was given where there is no centralised call centre but instead trained nurses nominating hours they are available to receive calls at home.
The truth likely lies between pessimism and optimism. A changing world requires continually evaluating how we function as individuals and organisations. As a recent arrival to OPC, I have been impressed by the pivot this organisation has taken in recent years to make digital tools to help make privacy easy. Our Priv-o-matic privacy statement generator, Privacy Impact Assessment Handbook, Data Safety Toolkit and Trusted Sharing Consultancy Service have all been developed to ensure that every day people and organisations can succeed at privacy.
Umbilical cord to the world – Charles Mabbett
Artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith gave the NetHui audience a reminder of just how precarious our internet connectivity is. Satellites aside, two cables physically connect us to the rest of the world. The Southern Cross Cable – 30,000 kilometres in length – joins New Zealand at two points to Australia and the western coast of the United States via Fiji and Hawaii. The cable makes landfall in New Zealand at two points on the Auckland coast and it is via this slender thread that the majority of us reap the benefits and convenience of the internet age.
Bronwyn gave us a brief and fascinating cultural perspective of how we as a nation have historically taken pride in the symbols of telecommunications progress which mitigate our geographical isolation. New submarine communications cables were once commemorated with postage stamps and public artwork. But the era of celebrating milestones of our technological progress as a nation has passed the same way as obsolete tech like the telegraph. We now have instantaneous mobile connectivity and it is something we expect and take for granted.
It was amusing to have pointed out that as beachgoers at Muriwai and Takapuna enjoy their New Zealand summer, 98 percent of the country’s internet traffic is humming past them in conduits covered by sand and water. If you’re in Wellington early next year, you’ll be able to view a series of artworks by Bronwyn which are based on her PhD research on the Southern Cross Cable in New Zealand at the City Gallery during the International Festival of the Arts. You can find out more here.
Digital inclusion, literacy and education – Nicola Clark
He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.
My reflections about NetHui centre on its pulling power in bringing eclectic minds, human values and aspects of the digital world together. Much like the whakatauki above, NetHui was definitely about people. The digital inclusion, literacy and education session which I attended allowed people from different backgrounds to freely share, without judgement, ideas, knowledge and future aspirations on what digital inclusion and literacy looks like.
As a ‘digital native’, it’s not often I think about what digital literacy and inclusion looks like. It also isn’t very common for us digital natives to think about privacy as a fundamental part of that literacy. But in an age where I enter more personal information into my computer than I do a diary or notebook, it is only natural that modern concepts of privacy are changing.
A question put to the floor was, what happens when your digital literacy falls short of being able to protect yourself and your privacy online? This question revealed the digital divide between older and younger generations, and between haves and have nots. There was a collective ‘hoorah’ that more needs to be done to change thinking towards privacy education as a fundamental part of digital literacy.
It’s become obvious that privacy now needs to be taught alongside critical thinking to counter ‘fake news’. Conclusions from these discussions led to one concerning revelation, that privacy is now commonly used as a commodity, something to sell a brand, rather than a right of sovereignty over one’s personal information. Also concerning is the more digital we become, the more we forget that behind the screens are people. When privacy has become a commodity, its events like NetHui that remind us the most important thing in the world is people.
Image credit: Tui by John Gerrard Keulemans (1842-1912) via National Library of New Zealand.